School of Medicine receives $2.3 million grant
The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), of the National Institutes of Health, awarded $2.3 million to the School of Medicine to fund a biomedical research education and training program to reduce health disparity.
The four-year grant supports programs in the basic science departments and is administrated through the office of minority student development in the biomedical professions.
Marino De Leon, PhD, announced that the National Institutes of Health approved a grant to support the LLU-NIH initiative for minority student development (IMSD) program on Thursday, March 17. Dr. De Leon, associate professor of physiology and associate director of the Center for Molecular Biology and Gene Therapy, is the principal investigator for the grant. The research education and training program was submitted as a grant to NIH for the first time in 1999. The revised program was funded for the first time on April 1, 2001, and funded again after going through competitive peer review last summer at the NIH. The grant supports a four-year research and educational training program based in the basic sciences departments of the School of Medicine.
Carlos A Casiano, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and co-investigator in the application, is coordinator for the undergraduate research component. Daisy De Leon, PhD, associate professor of physiology, assistant dean of diversity, and co-investigator in the application, coordinates the medical student component. Sandy Hilliker, PhD, instructor in biochemistry and microbiology, and Susan Gardner, PhD, associate professor of English from La Sierra University, offer enrichment activities through workshops. Scientists in the basic sciences departments and research centers of the School of Medicine serve as research mentors for the students. Keren Espinoza, MSHSA, is the administrative assistant and program coordinator for the program.
The purpose of the LLU-NIH IMSD program is to increase the number of students that belong to groups that are underrepresented in biomedical research. Dr. De Leon notes that a major component of the program consists of the actual research and training students do in biomedical sciences. With the first four years of the program completed, Dr. De Leon believes that Loma Linda University has demonstrated that it has the infrastructure and faculty commitment to manage a successful research-training program to train the next generation of biomedical scientists.
“If you don’t present a good scientific plan, you’re not going to get funded,” says Dr. Marino De Leon of the NIH grant process. Competitive renewal of the NIH grant speaks volumes about the existing program’s accomplishments and Dr. De Leon’s plans for its future.
“The University has been very supportive,” he says. “The program is supported by [H. Richard Hadley, MD, dean, SM]. It’s something that’s a priority for the University.”
Dr. De Leon is pleased with the progress of the first wave of students currently completing the program. They are moving on with their basic science research projects and garnering national scholarships and NIH recognition for their endeavors. The program has had about 60 students participating through the different components between the undergraduate, PhD, MD, and PhD/MD.
“We are developing a new, more diverse generation of scientists with the best training in biomedical research,” says Dr. De Leon. “Diversity in a health university such as Loma Linda engenders success and strengthens research and education.
“It is impossible to fulfill our mission in education and health care without diversity.”
One emphasis of the upcoming four-year cycle will be on a team approach to research. Dr. De Leon remarks that the program, one of more than 30 in the nation currently funded by the NIGMS, NIH, fits well with the University’s mission.
The funding for the LLU- NIH IMSD program covers 100 percent of a student’s tuition plus a stipend for living expenses. The design is to help get rid of the disparity in health care and education access. Students accepted into the program start off the first day with research. The program focuses heavily on research, while training students in scientific writing, grant writing, and public speaking. Dr. De Leon wants to ensure students know how to present their own research in the most professional and effective manner.
“It’s a comprehensive program that not only includes research, but reminds students that they are part of a community that needs their expertise,” says Dr. De Leon. Students in the PhD/MD and summer medical program will serve in the Social Action Community Health System clinics. Doctoral students serve as mentors to high school and undergraduate students. Service to the community is emphasized within the research program.
Dr. De Leon compares the program to a circle of success for all parties involved. “These talented students bring excitement to our University,” he says. “They challenge us and we learn from them. We want them to be independent thinkers and leaders.”